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On Such A Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee
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On Such A Full Sea (edition 2015)

by Chang-rae Lee (Author)

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9106720,516 (3.46)65
"From the beloved award-winning author of Native Speaker and The Surrendered, a highly provocative, deeply affecting story of one woman's legendary quest in a shocking, future America. On Such a Full Sea takes Chang-rae Lee's elegance of prose, his masterly storytelling, and his long-standing interests in identity, culture, work, and love, and lifts them to a new plane. Stepping from the realistic and historical territories of his previous work, Lee brings us into a world created from scratch. Against a vividly imagined future America, Lee tells a stunning, surprising, and riveting story that will change the way readers think about the world they live in. In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class-descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China-find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement. In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan's journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind"--… (more)
Member:erraticraccoon
Title:On Such A Full Sea
Authors:Chang-rae Lee (Author)
Info:Abacus (2015), Edition: Digital original, 368 pages
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On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

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Just a few years in the future, nearly everybody will be assured of getting the C-word, cancer. The protagonist's boyfriend, after being tested, shows, unbelievably, that he will not develop the C-word.
Fan is a diver in her complex, B-Mor. It used to be called Baltimore. Most of The originals have long left, but a few of them remain. Fan's family and the rest of the B-Mor community left their city in China a hundred years ago, a city and it's waterway become too polluted by industry to live in anymore.
In Fan's world, there are the Charters, the upper middle class; there are the Complexes, or the lower middle class, or working class; and then there are the counties, in other words people living off the grid. In Fan's complex, they factory farm fish and sell it to the Charters. Fan is a diver in a fish factory farm. She takes care of the structure, cleaning it, patching it, making sure the fish are healthy. her boyfriend Reg works in the vegetable farms, the hydroponic structures that grow vegetables for the Charters. Reg disappears one day, and Fan leaves the complex to go find him, the father of her baby.

P.50:
"yet there are some needling issues, even aside from the case of Fan, such as the fact that the less durable, discretionary-type goods in the shops have become stretches to the typical budget, and are often nearly unaffordable. Even our own products have become much costlier, the price of a single 500 - gram perch equal to what two cost just 5 years ago. or that the maximum stay period in the health clinics is effectively one week cycle (6 days), no matter the condition or needs of the patient, as the family is now responsible for the fees past that time, fees that are well beyond most any B-Mor clan's capacity to pay."

Fan sets out walking, and miles from B-Mor, she is hit by a car . She is thrown into a hole, her thigh broken and her head receiving a nasty blow. The driver of the car stops, picks her up, lays her in the back of his car, and drives on. This man is Quig, a former veterinarian who prospered in a Charter, before a virus spread through all the pets in the Charters, overnight leaving him without a career. At first he tried to make things work, moving into the service sector of the city, working at a linens company. His wife worked at a spa, and one day, one of her coworkers asked her if her husband had any tranquilizers left over from his veterinary business. Glynnis knew that he did, and little by little began to sell his leftover veterinary supplies. When Quit finds out, he is furious, but his wife in turn furiously asks him where he thinks the money for the private school tuition is coming from?
P.120-1:
"Glynnis convinced him to allow her to continue selling the vials, which she did, and once their former stocks were exhausted, she got him to contact his old partners and other colleagues to replenish their supplies. It wasn't long before the linens service turned into a special-delivery scheme, Quig himself at the wheel of the van with Glynnis and a former veterinary assistant named Ricky bringing the 'linens' to many of the most exclusive residential Lanes of their village. for Charters, we all know, relish their wine and spirits, frankly in many cases to the point of dependence, and it followed that the prevailing thin trade in illicit pills and powders and herbs had much room for expansion. they're so busy, so focused as a lot, seeing everything they tackle in work or leisure as an opportunity for personal 'leveraging,' that they're tightly compacted psyches require regular and deep unwinding. the vial business boomed, the level akin to when an enterprising fellow in B-Mor marketed a scientifically formulated 'synaptic-booster' cookie for our school kids to eat before the annual exams (which turned out to be simply full of caffeine), the money piling up so fast, in fact, that they were planning to repurchase their old condo, though they couldn't quite figure out how to pay for it aside from using hard cash, which is all they had."

This all comes to an end one day, as all good things must, when they are busted. Glynnis, Quig and their daughter leave for the counties, Quig not knowing where to go. He passes one destitute-looking hotel after another, finally stopping at one that looks amazingly tasteful. But that night ends in a tragedy, when some drugged-up scavengers break in and kill everyone, including Quig's wife and daughter. Now Quig lives in an Enclave in the counties, using his veterinary skills to doctor the humans that come from miles around for his healing. Some pay him with canned goods, some with stashed-away or stolen jewelry, some with scraggly-looking chickens. This is where Fan ends up, Quig tending to her until she's healed.
One day, Quig, Fan, and Loreen, a helper who lives in his house with her son, take a trip in his car for a Charter. In this charter, lives a man who owns a drilling company. One day, on a roadway, Quig comes upon him at the side of the road, having had an accident and broken his leg. Quig tends to him, and the man, wanting to repay him, gave him his card and told him that if he could help him someday he would. the well in Quig's community is running dry, and they need to drill another one, so Quig needs to rent his drilling equipment. At their luxurious home, Quig, Loreen and Fan are treated well, and plan to stay the night, the man making arrangements for his drilling rig and team to travel to Quig's enclave. But something's wrong, because Quig avoids looking Fan in the eye. The man draws Fan to his office.
P.183:
" 'I thought you could give this to Loreen,' he said, kneeling so that he was at her height. 'She said you and her son were good friends.'
Fan said that they were.
'Is he your boyfriend?'
She shook her head.
'It's not as though you'll never see these people again. Someday, if you still wanted, you might have the means. But you'll decide then.'
Fan nodded.
'And this is for you.'
it was a pretty little box of red lacquered wood, it's lid inlaid with faux Pearl with the figure of a delicate, reposing crane.
'Go ahead, open it.'
She suddenly didn't want to, but he insisted. it was a silver locket on a silver chain. he had her open the locket and inside there was a diamond, small but dazzling and cut in a perfectly faceted oval.
'it's a real one,' he said. 'antique, not manufactured as most all diamonds are these days. it's worth quite a sum. Probably more than you can imagine. It's all yours, Fan. But don't put it on now. Let this be our secret, yes? Why don't you wear it only at night, when you go to bed. All right? How nice that would be. Will you be a good, sweet girl and do that?' "

That night, of course, Mr Leo comes to her bedroom in the guest room she's laying in. when he lies down on top of her, she screams, and at the same time Mrs Leo strikes him in the back of the head with a heavy object. Quig and Loreen leave, almost immediately, and leave Fan behind. Mrs Leo takes care of Fan, treating her like the little daughter she never had. Meanwhile Mr Leo is now an invalid, having had two strokes after being struck in the back of the head by Mrs leo. One day, Mrs Leo opens a locked door in her bedroom, and takes Fan into a room where there are seven girls, ranging in age from Fan's age to mid-20s. They're all dressed in white night shirts. And they do not use their names; they go by One for the oldest to Seven for the youngest. Fan now becomes number Eight.
P.223:
"indeed, Fan was growing fearful for what she might leave behind in these hardly grown-up girls, who seemed too fragile as individuals to endure any change or trauma like a sundering of their group. they had been practically orphans to begin with, toss-offs from the counties who were damaged by Mr Leo and then quartered in a literally hobbling protective custody.
"yet it was not simply the limits of the room but also their own order that had formed them, the expressions of which Fan could see played out on the wall. for there was now nothing that could happen to them, no new experiences whatsoever save their routine and aside from the more plain, relative images that appeared whenever a new girl entered their realm, the scenes portrayed in certain detail the fantastical alternative lives of each: picture tales of the broods of children One and Two bore (and even those that they sadly had to bury, a pair from a sleeping sickness and one, of all things, by a fall from a tree), or of the dazzling acting career of Four, who starred in an imagined long-running program about women cattle ranchers in argentina, or The unsung missions of Three, who brought much needed basic dentistry to counties children by opening a string of spotlessly clean free clinics."

Fan begins to plan an escape, for she must still find Reg, the father of the child she is barely starting to show with. The other girls want to help her with this, so they try to form a plan. Two of the girls, Three and Four, find a can in the kitchen cupboard that has a bulging top. They know this signifies it's gone bad, so they make a meal, and in only their two dishes they spoon a little of the can's contents into it. The next day they become extremely ill with botulism. Mrs Leo is forced to call in a doctor to tend to them . The doctor takes note of Fan, her difference from the other girls. He asks her if she belongs here. She doesn't answer, but he knows she doesn't. when the girls have to go to the emergency room, Fan travels along with them. Dr Vik ends up taking her home with him, effectively rescuing her from Mrs Leo. Now Fan asks him if he can help her to find Reg and her brother, who long ago tested out smart enough to go live with an old couple in the Charters, who adopted him and sent him to university. one day Vik takes Fan with him to a housewarming party, at the home of a friend of his who he went to med school with, who has developed a test for cancer, that a pharm company wants to buy, so he has become exceedingly rich. At the party, Fan wanders among the groups of guests, listening in on their conversations. They're discussing what they'd do with money like "Oliver" has been offered for his invention:
P.280:
" 'I know what I'd do,' one of the women said, swirling her glass of white wine. She was gangly and sallow with frizzy dirty-blonde hair, her dark brown Roots grown out too long. 'I would have gone in and quit this morning and then chartered my own global for a 6-month tour of vineyards. Vineyards in every continent. but I wouldn't care if it was just one. I haven't been anywhere!'
'None of us has!' The other woman responded. 'How could we? We've all been in school forever and then went right to work!'
'and will do so forever!' An unshaven man piped in. he wore a funny little brimmed hat that seemed too small for his big swarthy head.
'I took a global to Fiji in the spring,' another of the men offered.
'I think I remember that,' the second woman said. wasn't that just for a long weekend?
'A regular weekend, actually. But it was really great.'
'What'd you do?'
'Swam some. Mostly slept.'
'Solid.'
The first woman said, 'do they have vineyards in fiji?'
The Fiji fellow said he thought not but couldn't be sure.
'would you go on your trip all by yourself?' The funny-hatted man asked the woman with the wine glass.
She thought about it. 'I'd bring a man with me, maybe even several men, for the company but also so I would be sure to get pregnant.'
'you could get pregnant now.'
'but I don't have the time. I don't yet have the money. And when I finally have both I'll be too old even to take drastic measures.'
'You can keep.'
'Don't be icky.' "

At the end of the party, when guests are leaving, Fan looks for Dr Vik. Going out the front door, she sees his car taking off. Oliver sees her.
P.290:
"he had been standing in the driveway on the other side of the catering vans. he approached her slowly, his face somehow somber and Sated all at once.
and in a voice that shook her, he said, 'I know who you are, Fan.'
she didn't answer, or couldn't, sure that she'd now come to the end of a line.
'You're my sister.' "

Oliver and his wife Betty (for this is the name the old couple who adopted Li-Wei gave to him), want Fan to live with them. She moves into a room next to their young daughter, and becomes the adored playmate of her. Oliver and Betty decide to buy the house next door, raze the house, and build a
P.346:
"One day Oliver gathered everyone including the helpers to relate some disappointing news, namely that they could not yet go forward with the basement pool and gym project because of certain zoning restrictions, telling only Betty that it was, in fact, because the bank was reviewing their credit lines, which were now temporarily suspended. All Fan knew was that he somehow looked grayer in the temples, grayer in the cheeks, and although he positioned himself as ever in the middle of the kitchen chaos, he picked lifelessly at his plate, downing only his unsweetened iced coffees, one right after the other, generally appearing badly dispatched enough that Betty had begun to sneak extra cream and whey protein into the drinks, which fortunately he didn't seem to notice. each new day that passed, two of them, three, then five or six, without word from the law firm of the contract being signed seemed to increase the time he spent up in his study, saying he was going over their financial accounts, though of course the conclusion was always instantly the same. They were running low on money, and there was no money coming in. the last few pieces of furniture and decorative items and artworks were still being delivered morning and afternoon, but a telling sign was that their wrappings and packages were no longer being opened, Betty having instructed the helpers simply to leave them for now, that she do it herself later."

P.350-1:
" 'miss Fan?' The driver said, and when she acknowledged him, he said Please and took her by the arm and guided her to the rear door. Please, he said again as he felt her begin to resist, his stiff fingertips pressing a nerve of her elbow she did not know was there. she heard mewls of panicked confusion from Pinah and Violet. Her knees almost gave way.
Please!
before she could speak, she was in the cave of the car, propping herself up in the back seat, her eyes not yet adjusting. It smelled just cleaned. They were already rolling forward, just turning out onto the real street. and they passed another silver sedan, oddly enough, on its way into Betty's Lane. Fan realized there was a second person in the front, who now ordered the driver to speed up, to go as fast as he could.
'I like your outfit,' he said, turning to her now.
It was Vik. Gentle-eyed Vik.
'It's a good one for traveling. but the question now, little one, is where would you like to go?' "

"Where you are."
I like the message I got from the protagonist. To me, she's saying take where You Are and make the best of it.

( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
I really enjoyed this novel. The first-person plural perspective gives the sense of a people trying to deserve their heroes. The thing that strikes me most is the tension between what people believe they ought to do and what they choose to do to benefit themselves. As friends and enemies change places around her, Fan is able to maintain her integrity while also looking out for herself, inspiring shame and sometimes action in those around her. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jul 29, 2022 |
People in the Charters frenetically seek every possible advantage for themselves and their children as they attempt to climb the ladders of perfect health and fabulous wealth. They are resourced by people who live in the facilities, whose modest lives are secure, collective, and changeless. Outside these well-ordered societies are the lawless counties.

The story of Reg and Fan, young lovers from a fish and vegetable facility called B-Mor, is told by a first person plural narrator from B-Mor. Reg disappears and Fan sets out to find him. Fan's harrowing adventures in the counties and the Charters become a mythology through which the B-Mors can test their satisfactions and dissatisfactions with their lives. ( )
  GwenRino | May 16, 2022 |
At first glance, this appears to be a dystopian novel set in the future, after there has been significant environmental damage done to the planet. On second glance, this book is a philosophical novel exploring current themes of alienation, wealth, greed, ecology, freedom, and what it takes to survive in a harsh world where the only thing of value is money.

TRUST NO ONE.

That seems to be one underlying theme of this book. At some point in the future, people with money will live in walled cities, people without will live in the lawless, poor, outlying areas. Everyone, rich or poor, suffers serious health consequences of living in such a polluted world. The rich people (Charters) have created some safe towns for workers to produce factory-grown fish and vegetables that they can purchase and hopefully, live a few years longer. These worker towns seem to be almost idyllic, but they have their issues as our unseen narrator reveals throughout the novel.

Our heroine, Fan, leaves her safe city of B-Mor one day after the sudden disappearance of her boyfriend, Reg. She sets out on her own across the counties and ends up in one adventure after another. She learns the world works on money, and the buying and selling of people is just part of the game. After all, you have to have money. You have to eat. And is anyone ever truly free?

The pace is relatively slow, and after a chapter or two of Fan's adventures, the narrator discusses what things are like in B-Mor now that Fan has gone, causing more unrest than she ever dreamed of causing.

Sad, hopeful, and thought provoking. ( )
1 vote Chica3000 | Dec 11, 2020 |
This was a very experimental dystopian novel, but the narrative style and emphasis on descriptions didn't work so well for me. This was just okay.

10/27/17 update: this was a richer reading experience than I remember. The end is especially so, when we consider homosocial female friendships. I'm pleased to discover that this will fit in nicely to my research project. ( )
  DrFuriosa | Dec 4, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
These encounters have no cumulative power and often feel like random episodes improvised on the fly to lend suspense to Fan’s story. And because Fan remains more of a symbol than a fully fashioned character, we have a hard time caring what happens to her, one way or the other.
 
Watching a talented writer take a risk is one of the pleasures of devoted reading, and “On Such a Full Sea” provides all that and more. It’s a wonderful addition not only to Chang-rae Lee’s body of work but to the ranks of “serious” writers venturing into the realm of dystopian fantasy.
 
On Such a Full Sea continues Lee’s experimentation with literary realism — the way he keeps fusing it with genre fiction and extreme situations, distorting it, making it Other. Through such experiments, Lee seems preoccupied by the need to make this familiar form something different from what we think it is, so that it can more capably capture a reality that has fast been veering into the unreal.
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lee, Chang-Raeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Booher, JasonCover letteringsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Yentus, HelenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
We, at the height, are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.
--William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
In the shadows of a golden age
A generation waits for dawn
Brave carry on
Bold and the strong

Only the young can say
They're free to fly away
Sharing the desires
Burnin' like wildfire
--Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry, Neal Schon, "Only the Young"
Dedication
For Eva and Annika
First words
It is known where we come from, but no one much cares about things like that anymore.
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"From the beloved award-winning author of Native Speaker and The Surrendered, a highly provocative, deeply affecting story of one woman's legendary quest in a shocking, future America. On Such a Full Sea takes Chang-rae Lee's elegance of prose, his masterly storytelling, and his long-standing interests in identity, culture, work, and love, and lifts them to a new plane. Stepping from the realistic and historical territories of his previous work, Lee brings us into a world created from scratch. Against a vividly imagined future America, Lee tells a stunning, surprising, and riveting story that will change the way readers think about the world they live in. In a future, long-declining America, society is strictly stratified by class. Long-abandoned urban neighborhoods have been repurposed as highwalled, self-contained labor colonies. And the members of the labor class-descendants of those brought over en masse many years earlier from environmentally ruined provincial China-find purpose and identity in their work to provide pristine produce and fish to the small, elite, satellite charter villages that ring the labor settlement. In this world lives Fan, a female fish-tank diver, who leaves her home in the B-Mor settlement (once known as Baltimore), when the man she loves mysteriously disappears. Fan's journey to find him takes her out of the safety of B-Mor, through the anarchic Open Counties, where crime is rampant with scant governmental oversight, and to a faraway charter village, in a quest that will soon become legend to those she left behind"--

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